Thursday, June 09, 2005

How In The Heck Did I End Up Here? (part five)

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on the history of my ministry. This one is very long... and sad. Still, it's an important part of my ministry journey, so read on... 

We spent the next few months (fall of 2001) at the church @ hickory hollow staggering forward, trying to keep it together. Our guitar player (Paul Durham) volunteered as our worship leader, and we talked through making some major changes to keep both financially viable and better able to reach people. But the exhaustion of the last few months and their own lives became too much for a few of our key families, who left in February of 2002. The financial issues of their departure forced us to move our service out of the elementary school and into South Gate Baptist on Saturday nights. The last few months of the church's life were painful - it was a shadow of what it had once been, yet the folks who were there still wanted it to grow and be what it was called to be.

By late July, though, the metaphorical writing was on the wall, and I sent the following e-mail to our folks in early August.


Tag & tc@hh

Brian was chasing me through his backyard... the game: Tag. I was not the fastest kid on the block but I cornered pretty well and came roaring through his side yard toward a low (maybe 3 foot high) retaining wall. My mind planned the maneuver perfectly: shorten my stride to hit the wall at the right speed, plant both hands on the top of the cinder block wall, swing my legs over, land on the other side and keep running.

One problem: I hadn't played Tag at Brian's house before. Which means I didn't know that the retaining wall was only 3 feet high on the backyard side, but nearly 12 feet high on the front yard side. So, as the plan was executed to perfection, I slung myself over the wall into thin air. Kind of like Wiley E. Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons.*

Over the last few months, pastoring the church @ hickory hollow has felt a bit like playing Tag at Brian's house... plans that seemed perfect in theory have been less than perfect in execution. "Sure things" have ended up crumbling like a sand castle at high tide. Wiley E. Coyote all over again. I realize I'm not alone in this... there is a core of people who continue to make tc@hh 'happen' who've had roughly the same experience. This group of folks has been watching our dreams collapse just like me, stunned as our hopes melt in the face of reality & time.

Home Depot & Hope

Home Depot promises a whole lot more than it can deliver... if you only spend enough money on the right tools and supplies, you can do Bob Villa-like projects on your home with the greatest of ease. (Heck, they'll even sign you up for classes on how to do this stuff - surely that should make a home improvement expert.) Just wander the aisles of Home Depot one day and look how many times the words "simple" or "easy" appear on the packaging.

I'm thankful, in light of my Wiley E. Coyote-like life, that the Bible (and by extension, God) never promises more than it/He can deliver. What He promises is His presence, His strength, and His unfailing love. There's no promise that I can find that we will not experience frustration & failure - as individuals or as local church bodies. What is promised is that He will not leave us alone... that whatever happens to our plans & dreams, our hope is too small if it is placed in anything but Him.

No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him,on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD,even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:16-22 (NIV)

Wiley E. Coyote & What Happens Now?

When the Coyote ends up shooting over the edge of the cliff, he hangs in mid-air for a moment, awaiting his doom. Sometimes, he gets enough time to whip a sign out from... well, I'm not sure where it comes from. (I don't remember coyotes having "pouches" from anything I've ever read. Anyway...) That's kind of where we are - hanging in mid-air waiting to find out what happens next. Just remember - whatever happens, however bad the "fall" looks, we can trust in a God who loves us more than we can ever know.

If you'd like to know more about the possible decisions that we're facing as a church, you are invited to call and/or e-mail me. As always, questions are welcomed & encouraged... and it's very easy to have questions when we've (metaphorically speaking) just shot over the edge of the cliff.

*Amazingly enough, I only managed to sprain my ankle from the fall... 12 feet into a planter full of ivy.


In August of 2002, we set aside 6 weeks to specifically pray for God's will about what should happen next with tc@hh - and His answer was silence. Well, except for causing our paid nursery worker to resign. :-) So at a congregational meeting in September, we decided to close the doors on tc@hh

It was a difficult decision, to say the least. I realized as I sat there that if I said, "Let's keep going", these people would follow my lead. But I didn't feel God calling us to do that. I kept hearing the main reason people wanted to keep tc@hh alive - they were scared of what would come next if there was no tc@hh. Fear is not a good enough reason to do church - we were not inspired by what God was calling us to do but by what we didn't want to happen.

Then I had to let the whole church know what was going to happen...



After much prayer & discussion, the membership of the church @ hickory hollow has decided that tc@hh's last service will be Saturday night, September 21st. Following that, the church @ hickory hollow will be disbanded.


I know that one of the first questions has to be "Why?" I'm not sure there's a simple answer to that question, but I do want to be clear about some of the realities we have been facing.
  • Attendance at weekend services has been dwindling over the past 6 months. The move to Saturday night solved a financial problem but was one of the factors in causing us to lose more attenders.
  • Since the majority of our folks are not in white-collar careers, giving has always been an issue - and less people means less giving.
  • Doing quality ministry with children has been difficult... especially so since our wonderful Kid's Place person, Vanessa Arellano, resigned in early August.
  • All of these things (and other smaller issues) have contributed to a growing lack of momentum.
In response to all of these issues, the church @ hickory hollow spent major time over the last two months in corporate prayer for God's leadership. The result of that time: no discernable signal from God that we were to continue.

That was confirmed personally for me in a pair of feelings coming out of my time with God:
  1. That I loved the people who made up tc@hh and wanted the best for them.
  2. That I was tired & stretched thin by the process of watching the dream of tc@hh slowly fade away.
With all of those factors (and more), we undertook a long discussion Wednesday night and came to the consensus that it was time to end. The official decision was originally to be made on September 18th, but we realized that all of the membership was present and could make the decision at that time.

Some Thoughts

More than one person has expressed their belief that tc@hh did what it was here to do - what God had created it to do. And that's true whether it was everything we wanted/hoped it would be or not. And that's also true, even with it ending.


Yes, this is painful. How could it not be? The relationships that make up tc@hh have been gifts from God - no other church I've served has been as much a part of me & my life. 

But I'm sure of this: no matter how sad I am right now, I would not trade the five years of planting tc@hh & living out the dream. If my choice was:
I'll take the five years. It's been a wonderful ride in the presence of God.

It really has been an authentic Biblical community - just like we hoped... the challenge in front of all of us is carry that vision away from here. Our job now is to be seeds that live out a real, Bible-based relationship with Christ & with others, no matter where we end up.


I'm afraid of sounding too "chipper" in this e-mail... too "God's given me all the answers." On my best days, I really do see Him at work, even in this painful process. On my worst days, I'm convinced He's left me, my family & the church I pastor high & dry, stranded without hope. My worst days, as you can probably guess, are not days on which I'm much fun to be around.

But my worst days are garbage - because that hopelessness is based on lies. (In the words of my friend, Dave Foster, "that's a lie that comes straight from Hell and it smells like smoke.") God has NOT taken off... He has not abandoned us. The organization known as the church @ hickory hollow may be done, but the Church is still very much alive and Jesus Christ is it's head. We're all just moving on to work for different 'departments' in the same incredible Company.

September 21st - A Celebration

Our last service will be a celebration of what God has done in our lives & relationships through the church @ hickory hollow... and we want to make sure that EVERYONE who has been a part of tc@hh knows that they are welcome to join us for that very special time. If there is any way possible for you to attend, please come & worship with us that night as we thank God for tc@hh.


We still owe $312 to Metro Schools. Otherwise, we have no outstanding liabilities. I encourage you strongly to continue giving to tc@hh, as our constitution/by-laws require us on dissolution to give our remaining assets to another church plant(s) in order to assist them. By giving to tc@hh, you're acting as seed money for starting a new church - which is a VERY good thing.

All the Sound Equipment?

No, Mark is NOT getting a boffo home entertainment system... all of the sound equipment and the other resources (Kid's Place supplies, Food Table stuff, etc.) will also be given to new churches to assist them.


Our final service was on September 21st, 2002. Many of the folks who helped make tc@hh what it was were able to be there... it was a massive celebration of what God had done in the five years we had been around. A bittersweet but wonderful night... we all went back to Paul & Amy's place (which, off & on, we'd called the "official meeting place" for tc@hh) and had a party.

To be continued...

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